Post Marathon recovery and training during the Marathon off season

By April 25, 2019 No Comments
running in the city

Coach Pani from Pacemakers talks about how you can recover post a marathon and also how you need to train during the off-season. 

It’s good to have a purpose in our day and lives which helps us to keep going through life’s ebbs and flows. Running for many is that purpose judging by the fact that the craze for running is spreading like wildfire. But, we need to tread with caution.

Running nonstop without an off-season/recovery time leads to a high risk of injury, chronic fatigue, and burnout.

Before we talk about off-season recovery and training, I would like to lay emphasis on how to recover from a marathon which is a critical component to a perfect training plan that runners often neglect.

What happens to our bodies when we run a marathon

First up, we need to understand the changes our body goes through when we run a marathon.

Research shows that running a marathon induces significant muscle, cellular and immune system damage for 3 to 14 days post-race. Therefore, it is paramount that marathon runners have a 2 – 3 week recovery protocol that focuses on rest and rejuvenation.

The most obvious damage is muscle soreness and fatigue and it takes about 2 weeks to return to full strength.

Cellular damage post marathon which includes oxidative damage and increased production of creatine kinase (CK) – a marker that indicates damage to skeletal and myocardial tissues and increased myoglobin levels in the blood (which often results in blood being present in urine) is also prevalent.

Immune system damage increases your risk of contracting cold and flu. Furthermore, research has shown that the immune system is compromised up to three days post the marathon and is a major factor in developing the ‘Over Training Syndrome’.

It is therefore critical that you rest as much as possible in the three days post the marathon and focus on eating healthy, nutrient-rich food.

Recovering from a marathon – just after and recovery time

The just after.

Keep warm – The first thing to do is get rid of your wet clothing or else you’ll end up catching a cold very quickly. Thus keeping yourself warm makes you feel a lot better.

Eat something – grab a banana, a sports drink, fruits, energy bars

Relax – as soon as you get home or a hotel room, have an ice bath. Not possible – then take a cold water bath and go for a walk in the evening to loosen up your legs.

Recovery time.

Step — 1: Rest completely – for the first three days post the run, do not do any running or cross training. Eat well – a lot of fruits, veggies, carbs, and protein. While carbs and protein help prevent muscle damage, fruits and veg help your immune system. Go for a light massage but avoid getting a deep tissue massage.

Step – 2: After the first 3 days of rest are done, you can go for an easy run one day and two days of cross-training like swimming for 30 to 40 minutes to get the blood flowing in your muscles. Then get a deep tissue massage done. You can even immerse your leg in hot water and ice water alternatively for 5 minutes, two to three times ending with cold water. You can also soak your leg in hot/warm water with 3 cups of Epsom Salt and 1 cup of Baking Soda before going to bed for 10 to 15 minutes.

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Step – 3: For the next one week you can go for an easy run three to four days for 45 to 60 minutes. On other days you can do cross-training if required.

Step – 4: From the second to third-week post-marathon run for four to five days slowly, building into full training. Do one or two medium to hard cross-training during this period. This way you can slowly build into the next training cycle.

Once the Marathon season ends it is time to take a break from the constant pounding of training. In India, usually, the Marathon season ends in February. Unlike in other countries, in the South of India, we can train throughout the year as we are not affected by the change in weather.

Marathon Off-season training

Every runner has a different approach to marathon off-season training – some like to take a complete break from running for a month or two and focus on family time, strength training, cross training, yoga, etc. while there are others who prefer to slowly start training to build up for their next race.

A lot of runners with the goal of improving their marathon performance, evaluate their races and chalk out a plan to overcome their weaknesses. If they are weak in strength and flexibility, they work on it. Likewise, if they are weak in aerobic endurance, they work on building their aerobic endurance before the start of their next training.

The strategy followed by PaceMakers running group during the Marathon Off-season

Our Annual training programme (50 Weeks) begins in the second week of February and ends with the Mumbai Marathon in the second week of January the following year. After the Mumbai Marathon, we take a break from running for 15 Days and resume in the second week of February that year. From February till July we concentrate on 5K and 10K training which is the offseason for our next Mumbai Half / Full Marathon.

During this period we focus on improving leg strength and speed endurance by doing Hill Sprint Workouts, Plyometrics, shorter Interval runs and 10K Race pace workouts without compromising on our aerobic endurance. For our aerobic endurance workouts, we concentrate staying on our feet for more time rather than covering the distance. The pace will be between 60 to 70% of our Max Heart Rate and through Chi running, we try to correct our running form and Breathing.

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In July when our training for the HM/FM begins and we are ready to take on the load and intensity that the training demands as the type of workouts also changes. Shorter Interval runs becomes longer and Tempo & Fartlek Runs also becomes longer as we lay more emphasis on the running economy. In my opinion, if you want to improve your Marathon PR then the best way is to improve your 5K and 10K PR.

Hit the Gym for Muscle strengthening

We also follow a gym routine to strengthen the muscles which help in our running. Here the focus is to try and improve our One Repetition Maximum (1 RM) where we progressively increase the weights during our workouts till 1 RM is achieved and also do some High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) like Tabata Workouts.

The key muscle groups we work on are:

  • The posterior chain of muscles like Glutes Maximus (Hip Extension) and the Hamstring Muscle (which flex the knee and helps hip extension) which is inhibited due to prolonged sitting at the office desk or car
  • The Gastrocnemius (calf muscle) & Soleus which lies underneath the calf muscle (Its function is plantar flexing the foot at the ankle joints and flexing the leg at the knee joint)
  • Muscles which lie on the anterior side like Hip Flexor (a group of muscles which flexes your hip)
  • The Quadriceps muscle (the four muscles in front of your thigh which helps extend the knee)
  • The Tibialis Anterior Muscle (helps in flexing the foot at the ankle and the big toe )
  • The Glute Medius & Minimus which is the most neglected muscle (it helps in stabilizing our hip while walking and running) and
  • The Adductor Muscles (helps in adducting our leg towards the midline of our body).

Regularly working on the posterior and anterior chain of muscles simultaneously strengthen them and helps in running injury-free.

In Conclusion 

As a Coach, my advice would be that whenever you work out at the gym please target both the opposing muscles by doing one push followed by one pull movement. The breathing pattern should be to exhale when you do push movement and inhale during pull movement. For example – when you work your biceps, don’t forget to work your triceps as well. Likewise, Quads and Hamstring, Gastrocnemius and Anterior Tibialis, Core muscles and Lumbar spine, etc.

If you strengthen the posterior muscle and neglect the anterior muscle then, the posterior muscle will become strong and anterior muscle will weaken which is the root cause for injuries.

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Kothandapani K C

Kothandapani K C

Kothandapani KC (aka Coach Pani) is the head coach at the PaceMakers running club and a marathoner himself. He believes that his "biggest strength for success lies in the four D’s -Discipline, Dedication, Determination and Devotion".